When he was first hired, Lovie Smith had a pretty good hand to work with: the Bears had almost all the pieces in place for a Super Bowl run. Now, six years after that run came up short, Lovie Smith hasn't gotten a whole lot more. Sure, the team added Jay Cutler, Julius Peppers, and Matt Forte, but they were mostly there to replace Thomas Jones, pre-injury Tommie Harris, and the occasionally good Rex Grossman. Long story short, no matter what Angelo did, the team always seemed to be one or two pieces short of being the real deal again. Now, the question is, "Can Emery do any better?" Are the Bears still just a few players short of a Super Bowl team built around our current defensive and offensive cores, or did Angelo close the playoff window on his way out? Answers below the fold.It was the cornerback situation that got me thinking about what the team's overall philosophy should be this year. While there are some good CBs out there in free agency right now, it would seem silly to stock the defense with more aging players: Tillman, Urlacher, Peppers, and Briggs are either over 30 or rapidly approaching it. What we need, especially on defense, is youth: the injury to Brian Urlacher in the final game of last season was a clear reminder of just how top-heavy the roster is. That same argument, however, could be used as a reason to get a cornerback in free agency: if we want to win a Super Bowl with our current stars, the team needs more proven starters, not developmental projects. The same goes for our needs on offense: Jay Cutler's health and sanity are both at risk if he is once again forced to rely on inexperienced blockers and skill players for yet another season.
I don't think it's all doom and gloom. The Bears looked like a playoff team last season, at least when all the gears were clicking, and Urlacher, Peppers, and Briggs have shown only minor drop-offs (if any) in their play. And for how bad the offense has looked at times, we do have Pro Bowlers in place in the two most important skill positions on offense. Still, the Bears have needs beyond what can be taken care of in a single off-season. Emery will not be able to find the Bears starters at cornerback, safety, wide receiver, and for both lines while also finding stronger backup players at quarterback and linebacker, at least all at once. So, the question remains: is it time to plan for the future, or for the present?
While part of me would love to see the team think long-term with our draft this season, the old line that Halas Hall has been selling since 2006 that "once we get ourselves a (insert team need here), we'll be back in the Super Bowl" actually does have a ring of truth in it. Emery's got the money to spend in free-agency: spend it on a real wide receiver. We have all our draft picks: use them on wide receivers, cornerbacks, and offensive linesmen. If Jay Cutler or Brian Urlacher go down in the middle of the season, we're going to be in trouble no matter what, so knock on wood that they stay healthy and get some players to surround them. And while It would be nice to start developing future franchise players while our current ones are still on the team, it would be even better if our star players could retire with a Super Bowl ring. "Win now" might have ended up being the death of Jerry Angelo - for that to work, you have to actually, you know, win. For Emery, however, "win now" is the right approach to take. The window may be closing, but it's open enough for Brian Urlacher and Jay Cutler. With an improved team around them, they can take care of the rest.